Wednesday, February 16, 2011

DNR Biomass Report to Legislature Challenged by Scientists, Activists

Above: New biomass activist Nate Johnson is interviewed by local reporter Mike Coday.

DNR Biomass Report to Legislature Challenged by Scientists, Activists

by Janine Gates

Biomass activists and some guerrilla theatre came to the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) today in downtown Olympia. Protesters highlighted a recent letter sent to state legislators by climate scientists refuting DNR's recent biomass report and hoped to personally serve Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark a "cease and desist order" to stop all state biomass projects.

Nate Johnson, who works nearby, came to participate in the protest. He lives in Mason County and said he just became aware of the biomass issue a couple weeks ago when he attended the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency's (ORCAA) hearing on the proposed Adage facility and listened to public testimony for three hours.

"What I learned about the biomass issue convinced me to resist it....the health risks aren't understood...and there's no history of humans showing restraint in using the supply. We're poor stewards of the land. Twenty years from now, I don't think we'll be looking at this as a positive chapter."

Johnson is also a 2002 graduate of The Evergreen State College, and expressed concern about the college's proposed biomass gasification facility.

February is Not For Love Letters: Activists, Scientists Challenge DNR

Duff Badgley, who recently had a biomass opinion piece published in The Seattle Times on February 7, was dressed in a mock-police uniform as an "Earth Cop" to serve Goldmark the "cease and desist" order. Goldmark was unavailable, so the order was delivered to DNR supervisor Leonard Young.

Goldmark, in response to Badgley's editorial, had his own published by the Seattle Times on February 11.

In another war of words, three internationally acclaimed climate scientists have refuted DNR's recent biomass report to the Legislature and policies supported by Washington Governor Gregoire and Goldmark. The letter, written directly to all members of the Washington State Legislature, was not directly addressed to Goldmark or his agency.

At a recent meeting at DNR between DNR representatives and Olympia area anti-biomass activists, key parts of the letter were read to DNR policy director Craig Partridge, who said he was aware of the letter. Partridge welcomed civil dialogue, and said he would speak to Goldmark about their concerns.

Bonnie Phillips, who runs a regional biomass list serv, said her message was simple: carbon neutrality, and concerns about health and fuel supply issues. Partridge agreed with her, saying "those priorities are absolutely on our minds as well, and we probably share a lot of your values and perspectives...."

Activist Pat Rasmussen, in that same meeting, told Partridge, "This is not a movement of environmentalists, it's average, everyday people. It's not the same scenario as a year ago. These are people scared about their health and their children's health...this is a people's movement."

Phillips agreed, saying, "I've been astonished at how people are being educated and educating themselves."

The letter by scientists Mark Harmon, Timothy Searchinger and William Moomaw, in response to DNR's report to the legislature, is available at

Mark Harmon, a professor at Oregon State University who came to The Evergreen State College (TESC) in Olympia to speak on carbon neutrality last November, is one of the scientists the TESC Sustainability Council hopes to tap to do research into its own biomass gasification feasibility study.

Searchinger is a research scholar and lecturer at Princeton University and Transatlantic Fellow, The German Marshall Fund of the United States. William Moomaw is a professor of International Environmental Policy at Tufts University.

Their letter expresses great concern about the accuracy of DNR's report, strongly challenging DNR's approach to carbon accounting.

"A critical conclusion of the report is that biomass of all kinds, including harvested trees that would otherwise remain standing, should be treated as a "carbon neutral" fuel, an assumption the authors ascribe to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). However, this conclusion is based on a misinterpretation of IPCC accounting, and is inconsistent with the best science of forest carbon accounting."

The letter also states, "The amount of new biomass generation currently proposed in Washington would amount to less than one percent of the state's electricity generating capacity. Yet even this relatively small amount of power generation seems likely to put new demands on Washington's forests and their delivery of multiple ecosystem services, including timber. This will transfer standing forest carbon into the atmosphere, thereby increasing carbon emissions from Washington's power sector. Simply declaring biomass power to be carbon neutral does not make it so."

Yesterday, at Enviromental Lobby Day in Olympia, Goldmark addressed about 500 people who gathered at a nearby church prior to meeting with their local legislators to speak with them about a variety of environmental issues. In his comments, Goldmark expressed concern about the scale and inefficiency of the proposed Adage biomass facility in Mason County, while also expressing his commitment to biomass.

Taking a glance from the fourth floor at the demonstrators gathered in the DNR lobby today, Bryan Flint, DNR director of communications, commented, "It's democracy in action."

Above: The DNR interior lobby, from the fourth floor.

For more information about biomass issues, see other articles on this blog at

'Views on 5th Hotel' Land Use Application Approved by City

File photo: A quiet Spring morning along a then-unfenced Capitol Lake, before we knew about New Zealand mud snails, and the proposed 'Views on 5th Hotel' building, seen here.

By Janine Gates

'Views on 5th Hotel' Land Use Application Approved by City

The vacant downtown Olympia office building best known as "The Mistake on the Lake," and the former Capital Center Building, now known as "Views on 5th Hotel," was given land use approval and a state environmental policy act (SEPA) determination of nonsignificance, according to city planning and development department manager Todd Stamm.

There is a public comment period, which closes Wednesday, March 2, at 5:00 p.m.

The nine-story, 75,000 square foot building is proposed to be converted from an office building to a hotel with up to 140 rooms.

According to the land use approval notice, the city has determined that "this action probably will not have a significant adverse impact upon the environment," and an environmental impact statement is not required. The environmental review and SEPA threshold determination was based on the application submitted by architect Glenn Wells, on behalf of a Seattle-based applicant on December 1, 2010.

For more information about the hotel application, see original story on December 1 at

The application was approved on February 16 by the city's site plan review committee. The only application condition the committee specified is that, prior to occupancy, the applicant will install a bicycle parking facility for guests. If the hotel is to include public meeting rooms, public bicycle parking must also be provided.

Wells, the architect for the proposed hotel, says the project is a "go" once the comment and appeal period has expired. The project is moving ahead in the permitting process. Wells says that there isn't anything particularly unusual about the project, but (Stamm) wanted the applicant to submit a land use SEPA checklist because "he wanted to do everything right."

Stamm, who is also the lead SEPA official for the project, agrees.

"Very few rules apply in commercial to commercial building interior remodels. What was unique about this project is that proposed remodels are usually much smaller," said Stamm. Stamm also acknowledged that there is great public interest in this particular building and its location.

When asked about traffic considerations, for example, both Wells and Stamm agreed that peak hour trips are fewer with a hotel, as compared to an office building. According to an analysis by Dave Smith, city transportation staff, an office building there would generate about 135 trips per hour, as compared to an estimated 100 or less trips per hour generated by a hotel. Traffic generated by a hotel is dispersed at different times, too, as opposed to an office building.

In an interview late today, Jerry Reilly, chair of the Olympia Capitol Park Foundation, said that while he has not had a chance to review the land use notice just issued, "this is not simply a normal location - the building has a long history of public concern." The Olympia Capitol Park Foundation is raising funds to acquire a portion of the isthmus between Budd Inlet and Capitol Lake for a public park.

Public comment on this application, Project #10-0140, can be directed to Todd Stamm, Planning Manager , City of Olympia Community Planning and Development, PO Box 1967, Olympia, Washington 98507-1967, or, (360) 753-8597.

The comment deadline is March 2, 2011, 5:00 p.m. The appeal deadline is March 9, 2011, 5:00 p.m.